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March 2005
Ice Princess: An Interview with Joan Cusack

Ice Princess: An Interview with Joan Cusack

By Todd Gilchrist

Joan Cusack is one of Hollywood's most reliable actresses, particularly as a comedian; after providing able support in some of her brother John's early comedies, she struck out on her own and became a formidable on screen presence in her own right. In this week's "Ice Princess", Cusack shows another side of herself as the mother of a bookworm who aspires to become the next ice skating champion, and demonstrates dramatic chops that rival her comedic ones. In this recent interview with blackfilm.com, Cusack discusses her role in the film, the status of her Hollywood career, and her own responsibilities as a parent.

How big is skating in Chicago?

Joan Cusack: Skating is big in Chicago. There's a lot of hockey, too- a lot of the boys play hockey. And figure skating is big. I mean, I don't have girls, so I don't know that whole thing that much, whereas my son plays hockey; we went one day because they were having this ice skating show of all of the girls, and it was huge. It was like all of the dresses and the things and all of the outfits and the moms and all of the members and they were doing a big show; it was big.

How did you muster that protective maternal emotion for Michelle when you stand up to Kim?

JC: Um, I think it comes from that passionate parenting thing where you know what, whatever is going on with your kid, if someone does something to your child, it's beyond beyond, you know? That's totally unacceptable.

Have you confronted the film's dilemma between academics and extracurricular activities in your real parental life?

JC: What did you guys do?

Well, we're still debating it, actually.

JC: That's hard. Can they do both? That's a huge balance, I think, with kids- trying to find the right- it's everything, you know, it's social life, it's academics, it's sports. You know, that's a big-

Is there one that's most important to you as a parent?

JC: I mean, I actually think that having a good sense of themselves is the most important thing, you know, actually kind of more emotional intelligence, because then you can say, 'okay, here's a challenge I think you can handle,' and they can go for it freely. Or 'I see this in you- you're good in this- you're good in that. Do it- do it and enjoy it,' so it's not a struggle as much, when they have a good sense of themselves, I think. When they don't have that it's hard to do everything, you know, and then you're pushing, and they don't know what they really like, you know what I mean?

Do you see parallels between your character and Kim's?

JC: Yeah. I mean, we're both kind of pushing what we think our kids should be like on the kid instead of letting them, you know, bringing out their own potential and what's right for them, you know, sort of crossing that line where you want to shape your kid but you don't want to shape them into you; you want to shape them into them.

How did you develop the very natural mother-daughter relationship between yourself and Michelle?

JC: There was a lot of that in the script already, which was nice. It's something I'm interested in, and that was one of the things I liked about the movie, that it had parenting stuff in it. So we talked about it, what really is going on, and that was nice to have those kind of discussions.

You and the director, or you and Michelle?

JC: No, the director and me, and the director and Michelle. We talked a lot about that, which was so fun, because it's meaningful to me- you feel like you're doing something that's meaningful.

Why do you think filmmakers are offering you more authoritative, or even 'stuffy' roles?

JC: Um, let's see. Right- I was also kind of like that in Raising Helen- stuffy, uptight, more uptight. Well, some of it, I think, is culture and movie culture, and the kind of roles that people write, and what's available and what's available to me living in Chicago and trying to balance my own parental concerns with- you know, being a good parent and trying to make it work and do this. You know, and maybe I'm more drawn to those kind of parts because they are meaningful to me. I mean, that's the School of Rock kind of- but more parent-y ones I find interesting to do.

Have you seen the billboards around Los Angeles (www.jaythewriter.com) with John's name crossed out and your painted up instead as a starring vehicle?

JC: No. Really? That's so funny. Does he really have a script or not? That's inventive.

When you were a kid, was there any kind of interest you had that drew you like skating does Michelle's character in the film?

JC: You know, I did do water ballet. I used to water ballet, which is fun.

Were you as good as Esther Williams?

JC: No. That's- you're taking the brass ring, there. No, it was just high school and I did it for a few years, but I wasn't real sporty.

Did you feel like venturing out on the ice yourself?

JC: You know, more truly the thoughts that crossed my mind are 'oh my gosh- why do these parents push these kids like this?' It seems so sad and it takes so much out of their life and they don't get- it's not balanced, but then, because a lot of them were ice skaters, and then some of them. Did they have the right balance, and it was just 'was it good,' and good choices and great experience for them, you know, stuff like that.

Did you speak to any of the 'stage parents' who were guiding these skaters' lives?

JC: I never really spoke with them there, but I didn't have- that wasn't a piece of my character, exactly, so I didn't-yeah.

You're playing the voice of the Ugly Duckling in Chicken Little?

JC: Yeah. Not really, although it takes place after the Chicken Little story that everyone knows, so it's inventive. She is kind of the wise, supportive friend.

Did they physically model any of the character after your behavior?

JC: You know what? They're still really working on it. I haven't even seen that much of it, but they did that. They videotaped you.

Have you seen what your character looks like?

JC: Yeah. I have seen that. Yeah, it's cute, you know. It's a treat.

Have you shot Friends with Money yet?

JC: Yeah. I play- it's kind of like a slice-of-life, LA women in their forties, playing forty kind of what's their friendship like, and what's their life like and so I just play one of the four friends.

Is it a Sex and the City, only in LA?

JC: Yeah, but not that bent, really. But yeah. Frances McDormand, Catherine Keener [and Jennifer Aniston]. And it was a woman director, which is kind of nice.

What do all of you have in common?

JC: Well, we're all actresses. We've got that going. We're all gals in our late thirties and early forties, and Frances McDormand and Catherine Keener have kids, and the director has kids, so we all have that, you know, and then everyone's kind of their own kind of person. It was fun for me to be around other actresses that were interesting, because I don't get that. I mean, not that there aren't interesting actors in Chicago, I'm just not around a lot of actors in Chicago, so it was so fun for me to see how they are, how they're handling their life and being, and how it works. It was neat.

How did you cultivate the relationship between yourself and Michelle, particularly in terms of your character being a single parent?

JC: Yeah. For me, I can't imagine being a single parent or a single parent that doesn't have a lot of money. That's a big, huge impact on your life and your dynamic and everything- I mean, that's huge. So it affects how much you, I think, have a break from just concentrating on just one other person in your life. You know, it becomes so myopic that way, and more intense, probably, and I think it's a huge difference.

Did it change the way you played the role?

JC: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a little harder to let go, I think it's a little harder to let go in a lot of ways, to let them be separate from you. I mean, this is a time when they're going to college, so you really- that's it- you're done, and this has been your whole- you don't have a relationship also, another relationship that you're centered with.

Did you learn anything as a parent from playing a role like this?

JC: I think it's fun to have work that you can relate to, that you can feel like is meaningful. I mean, I might think that's a thing that a lot of parents do. I see it in my own parenting all the time; it's not like I'm- I definitely don't want them to be actors, but that would be hard, if my sons wanted to do that. It would be really hard for me, because it's a really tough life, and you wouldn't want to put that on your kid, but if that was what you really wanted to do, I mean like you see it in small ways with they have a friend that they want to play with that is not the best influence, but they really want to play with that person, but there's so much you can shape and so much you've just got to say, 'he has so much fun with that kid,' you've got to let him do it. So I mean, it just kind of reinforces good to think about important to think about, fun to sit and talk about, you know?

Are your kids old enough to entertain the possibility they might follow in your footsteps?

JC: they're definitely starting to, and not- I mean, I don't think they have a conception of really what someday they're going to have a job, because School of Rock was a very kid-oriented movie, so in their school, they were like, 'oh my God- your mom is the [principal].'

How old are they?

JC: Dylan is seven and Miles is four.

Have you ever regretted not pulling up stakes in Chicago and moving to LA?

JC: I don't think so. I'm so happy there- I love Chicago. It's such a great town, and it's got great culture and great history, and it's not as extreme as LA or New York, and it's just- it's hard for me for work, because I don't live and work in the same place and that's tough. But I'm- I love it. It's got seasons, and people doing things other than the movie business, where you can say 'did you see that movie?' and they say 'yeah' and you talk about it for a little while at dinner and then that's it. You talk about other things.

Is John making any progress on that proposed Grosse Point Blank sequel?

JC: He- I know he thinks about that, but he's so funny. He has so many fun, great ideas, scripts and things that he's working on. He actually, I think, is going to do this other one in May, with the guy who did Max, and I think they're going to do a movie together in May that I might play his sister in.

Did you have any affinity for math?

JC: You know, I loved math. My mom was a math teacher.

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